Recently relocated from Amsterdam, where he lived exclusively in squatted houses, to Berlin where he rents a room, it is Cristi’s first time in seven years that he must pay rent. All of a sudden, living seems to have gotten tough. Cristi must work and save for a roof above his head. Strangely enough, the change doesn’t seem to shock him. For the first time in seven years, he experiences the downs, the boredom and the absurdity of being a regular citizen.
In 2005, when I landed in Amsterdam, the local squatters were so busy taking over empty houses that opening the house rentals page of a newspaper felt as absurd as hiding an ugly yuppie Christian mistress in the closet while being in love with Miss Counterculture Amsterdam. I moved into a squat during my first month in town and from that one to another one, and then to another one. Three different squatted buildings have hosted me in the past seven years. I call it big-time lucky – squatter comrades have been evicted from nine houses within a single year.
The chemistry has blended perfectly with my tastes and needs. I moved Amsterdam to experience its delights, its underground culture, and to become a writer. Working hard, saving money and renting clean, white expensive flats owned by real estate speculators didn’t appeal to me at all. Living among alternative people, screwing up the game of speculators, and replacing time-is-money with time-is-writing – it felt insanely more valuable.
We often squatted houses in neighborhoods that one could not afford renting with less than 1000 quid or more. Once in a while, when a millionaire goes bankrupt and cannot afford paying taxes on their twelve room house located by the central park, a common scenario included punks drinking 30 cents beer in the balconies of such houses.
According to Dutch law, squatting is legal as long as it has been uninhabited for at least one year and is not the subject of approved renovation. I remember squatting-of-the-century cases: Occupation of an annex of National Museum, Churches, tens of hectares of terrain, brothels, schools, hospitals, boats, a military bunker, and the classical failed attempt of squatting the Royal Palace – symbolically attributed to the royal family, but never inhabited by the twats.
We also broke in houses without electricity, water, facilities, and with the mud coming uninvited up into subterranean rooms while mice were having three-day parties, twice a week. The pleasure of fixing them and pimping them out to our own taste, without any approval from landlords, was priceless. Exquisite pieces of art came out of it, even though some might still carry trauma from what they discovered in the fridge.
Puritans often call us lazy or criminals. Let me remind them about the political factors involved in squatting: Rich housing corporations, or private speculator biz-men buy loads of flats at a cheap price due to market fluctuations at times. They keep them out of the circuit, waiting till prices explode and sell them for far more than they’re worth. Or, they leave them abandoned to become rotten and falling apart to score the insurance money. Meanwhile, people don’t have places to live because they can’t afford paying high rents. Why leave buildings empty while homeless people increase due to the high prices? Who is the criminal of the equation?
Squatted space is used not only for dwellings, but also as art studios, people’s kitchens, saunas, film theaters, you name it. Squats have hosted large numbers of travelers from all over who otherwise could have not have afforded hosuing. Most of the dreamers, political activists, anarchists, freaks, artists, beautiful losers I love would have never set foot in Amsterdam without the possibility of squatting. Amsterdam would have never carried its hip and cool trademark without these cats. Never ever. Amen.
Since October 2010, when the Dutch parliament passed the squatting ban, the police evicted more than one hundred squats. A few hundred people needed to re-design their life-styles to become regular citizens. Many left town. I’m one of them. The urge to keep it on the art side burns high, so I’m checking what Berlin has to offer as a source of inspiration. By now, it has been mostly trans-piration: Working in the day to pay the rent, like an average city dweller, and trying to create at night, like a freak. If the hard-working citizen life sucks all my energy and interferes negatively with the creative one, I will stop the machinery and go back. No economic system fucks with my baby. My squatted house in Amsterdam is one of the few last standing.